Art and Commerce Need Not Be at Odds

From Jane Friedman:

The apparent conflict between art and commerce is probably as old as commerce itself. Many writers tense up, glaze over, or even freak out when they think about “the business of writing.” Creative writing is, after all, creative. But here we are in a capitalist soup, love it or hate it, and you have to find your place herein. I choose to be an empowered creative, envisioning innovative ways to work within and transform the system.

So what does creativity have to do with business? A lot, it turns out. It’s just a different kind of creativity than you engage with when you write. Imagining dynamic characters, creating distant or exotic landscapes, and devising whimsical or harrowing scenarios uses another part of the brain than conjuring up a business idea or planning for your new product or service. But you are still imagining, still wondering, still dreaming.

I’ve had to remind myself of this as someone who started out as a poet. Poetry is the writing form probably most seen as antithetical to business. But as I’ve gotten older, the distinctions between creativity and business have started to soften and melt away. I am not only a poet but also, as a person who runs a private online writing school, very much a business person engaging in commerce.

. . . .

Thinking about audience gets me thinking about purpose. I ask myself, “Why am I writing this, really?” Connecting to your purpose as a writer offers another bridge between creativity and commerce. I want my writing to have impact—preferably to inspire. I want to stimulate my readers to think differently about themselves and the world. I want my words to remind them of their inherent creative genius, their innate imaginative power to manifest real change. Why are you writing? To inform, instruct, engage, encourage, motivate? Whatever your intention, if you can touch repeatedly into the heart of your desire around writing and hunker down in that love of process (yes, even when it sucks) I think you’ve struck gold, and audience blooms forth as a natural extension.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG asks, “Do you want people other than your parents to read what you write?”

If the answer is yes and you think there’s something unseemly about commerce, post your writing online all over the place, announcing that it’s in the public domain and you claim no rights to it and people will read it.

If that’s not what you had in mind and you want to see your writing in your cozy little local bookstore, then you’re interested to a greater or lesser extent in commerce. PG will assure you that every single author of the books you see in your cozy little bookstore is interested in commerce.

Tolstoy, Dickens, Twain, Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald were each interested in commerce. Are you a better writer than each of them?

Shakespeare was very interested in commerce and this interest rewarded him richly. One of his principal reasons for writing writing plays was to get paying customers to show up at the Globe theater. Shakespeare was part-owner of the Globe.

The Globe was a large commercial enterprise. Attendees paid one penny for standing room, two pennies for entry into a part of the theater where they could sit down on a hard bench and three pennies for a balcony with cushions to sit on and a decent view of the stage.

Additionally, The Globe had a separate entrance for the more refined members of the audience who sat in yet another balcony. Entry to this part of the Globe cost one shilling – twelve pence.

If a new play was premiering, the standard prices were doubled. Additional money was earned by the sale of food and drink by vendors walking through the crowd.

It’s estimated that Shakespeare earned 40 pounds per year from his ownership interest in the Globe. This was enough to support a gentleman’s lifestyle in London.

In addition to money he received from the Globe’s entrance fees, Shakespeare earned a fee as the author of his plays, likely 8 to 10 pounds per play.

In one more addition, Shakespeare and other authors received all of the Globe’s receipts from the second night of a new or rewritten play. Records show that the second night of Othello earned 9 pounds and sixteen shillings. A printed collection of all of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in 1623 and sold for a pound.

Shakespeare was also a professional actor and was paid additional money for his performances at the Globe, whether in his own plays or plays written by others.

In addition to performances at the Globe, Shakespeare’s plays were also performed at the royal court for a fee. Queen Elizabeth typically paid ten pounds for each performance.

Putting all of this together, Shakespeare’s annual income is estimated to to have totaled about 100 pounds per year. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of money earned by an internationally best-selling popular author in the world today. As you’ll see below, 100 pounds would buy you a very large house.

In 1597, Shakespeare repurchased his original family home in Stratford-upon-Avon (which his father had lost due to poor investments), known as New Place, for about £120 in 1597.

New Place was the largest house in the borough, and the only one with a courtyard – a significant purchase for the 33-year-old Shakespeare in 1597. There were ten hearths, which means it had between 20 and 30 rooms, plenty of space for the whole of Shakespeare’s family. Towards the back of the courtyard stood a large, late-medieval Hall, the main gathering point of the Shakespeare’s’ family life.

See much more about how Shakespeare earned his money here.

See more about Shakespeare’s house here.

Here’s a drawing of New Place:

Image from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which appears to include active commercial enterprises of its own.

2 thoughts on “Art and Commerce Need Not Be at Odds”

  1. This is simple. If some people who consider themselves creative don’t want to engage in commerce, then don’t engage in commerce. Just sit there and create.

  2. According to his biography, Philip Roth was a major careerist. He traded favors, networked with writers and editors, and did his best to subtly campaign for a Nobel Prize.

    Jonathan Franzen’s interviews when Oprah picked “The Corrections” showed his awareness that being popular by the general public would hurt his reputation as a literary artist.

    Historians who write best-selling books like McCullough have always been slammed by their peers for not writing “serious” books.

    Hugh Walpole was notorious for his networking, sending signed copies of his books to critics and talking to anyone with a notebook. Somerset Maugham’s “Cakes and Ale” savaged Walpole so much that is overshadowed the last decade of his life.

    It’s a harsh world out there.

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